Support and development of State Brewers Guilds remains a major focus of the Brewers Association. The addition of Acacia Coast, the trade group's State Brewers Association Coordinator has helped the BA become more of a resource for existing and fledgling guilds. Acacia has been busy crisscrossing the country attending state brewers association meetings with many of them centered on initial guild formation.
Recently, Acacia provided an update on her trip to Louisiana and Mississippi.
After touring over 535 miles through Louisiana and Mississippi, I am happy to report delicious craft beer is flowing in the south. It’s not, however, flowing freely, and access to market is still a challenge in these Bible Belt states. In mid-December, I had an opportunity to meet in New Orleans with Louisiana brewers for their Louisiana Craft Brewers Guild meeting, then drove out to Ocean Springs, Mississippi for a their initial formational meeting of their state brewers guild.
The Louisiana Craft Brewers Guild is hoping someday to make pro-craft changes to those restrictive laws, but are focusing currently on developing their brand, fundraising, creating champions out of elected officials, and educating the state on the economic benefit of craft beer. With the departure of their former guild president, founding member Melanie Knepp, who moved to Washington, D.C., elections were conducted to flush out new leadership for the association.
Young entrepreneur, Andrew Godley, owner of Parish Brewing Co in Broussard, LA will take over as President, and David Blossman, owner of Abita Brewing Co is now Vice President. They’ll be working with Conrad Rolling, attorney at Dunlap Fiore, LLC, who was voted to be a part-time paid Executive Director for the guild. With the support of Conrad’s connections and efforts, the guild will work on fundraising and educational opportunities, bringing proceeds and legitimacy to the fledgling association.
The breweries also took advantage of the opportunity of having everyone in one place to network and learn from each other about the craft beer business. They were grateful to learn that Kirk Coco, of NOLA Brewing Co, got a letter from the LA ATC stating that packaging breweries & pubs can sell out of the brewery 10% of their beer for off premise consumption - a real game changer, as previously, they could only offer free samples and not charge for beer in their tap rooms. The ATC's new commissioner, Troy Hebert, is a big supporter of craft beer. The health department is also generally craft friendly in this state. As it happens in every state I visit, there was much conversation about the different interpretations of legal issues, all depending on who they are dealing with in the state’s regulatory associations.
Meanwhile, brewers in Mississippi met for the first time in preparation to organize their state association. There are currently three breweries in the final stages of beginning production now in MS. Hosts of the guild meeting, and owners of Crooked Letter Brewing Co, Paul and Wanda Blacksmith, expressed their desire to organize the guild in order to assist other potential brewery businesses to open in the state with much less heartache than they experienced. Lazy Magnolia’s Leslie and Mark Henderson, previously the only brewery in production in MS, and who have essentially built craft beer in the state, are looking forward to finally having some fellow breweries joining the state’s craft industry.
The guild already has strong support from allied trade partners. Craig Hendry, president of the consumer activist group, Raise Your Pints, attended the meeting. Their organization drove legislation to raise the ABV percent cap in the state just this year. He’s looking forward to the guild taking on some of the antiquated laws, and taking a bit of the weight off the shoulders of Raise Your Pints. In addition, lawyers from two breweries, as well as one brewery’s lobbyist also attended, lending insights and solutions to the multiple challenges the new association will face once they’ve organized.
A steering committee was formed to ensure the initial administrative steps are completed before their next meeting in January. The guild has been filed with the Secretary of State, and they already have their FEIN. Next, they will adopt bylaws, and elect their initial board. With the board established, they will finish filing the state non-profit registration. They’ve set up a Google Group distribution list to open up communications and keep everyone updated. It was a very productive meeting with an excellent turn out and strong momentum. We’re excited to be adding Mississippi to the guild community in early 2013. Moving into next year, we look forward to supporting organization in the 4 states left without a state guild: Wyoming, South Dakota, North Dakota, and West Virginia.